The team at Botsociety strongly believes that students are shaping our future. We had the opportunity to listen and learn from students at the 2019 Hack@Brown Hackathon in Providence, Rhode Island on January 26th and 27th. The hackathon provided university students with a playful way to experiment and watch their ideas come to life. Students were encouraged to discuss and explore ideas and larger goals throughout the hackathon.

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“Why Hack@Brown?”

Since we are based in San Francisco (pretty far from Rhode Island), we continue to get asked the question “why Hack@Brown?” Brown University has a special place in our hearts.

A year ago, we connected with Tiffany Chen who was working on a smart pillow VUI for her senior thesis project. The pillow is able to record and process a person’s sleep patterns and make recommendations based off of the data. She used Botsociety to map out just how the dialogue interaction between the pillow and the user would play out.

When people don’t really have any self-autonomy it’s really interesting that a pillow might be able to help them, when they can’t even help themselves.

We still keep in contact with Tiffany, the Assistant professor Jeff Huang, and her successor, Jiaju Ma ’21, a RISD dual degree student, who will be continuing the project.

Outside of the pillow project, we have been working to grow our education program with over 70 universities using Botsociety for their studies. We believe that providing students with a tool that is fun and easy to play around with will assist students in exploring and learning about all of the interesting use cases for conversation design. This type of creativity is often stifled at the corporate level and we are counting on students to re-introduce playfulness and exploration.

With this mission in mind, we made the decision to come back to Brown where it all began.

First impressions

Seeing the excitement, focus, and creativity of students was inspiring. In the morning, we met with so many curious students at the sponsor fair. It was encouraging that students were so attentive and receptive to our team explaining what Botsociety is and the opportunities that we offer. Here’s what Ishan Hasan, one of the Brown University students, wanted to share:

I thought hack@brown was a really fun experience made better by companies like Botsociety that allowed us to think big and provided us with the tools to do so.

There were students from all kinds of backgrounds, including those studying design at RISD, a lot studying computer science, first-years to graduates, and students from all over the country. It was incredibly fun to connect with everyone and see their aspirations.

We had a very warm welcome by the organizers and participants. We were one of the three Mega Sponsors, which allowed us to stay the whole time and help out as mentors!

Theme: Recess

The theme for the hackathon was Recess. This theme encompasses the need to

experiment, design, and create.

This was a great theme for a hackathon, very in-line with Hack@Brown’s vision. To inspire “Recess” even further, they had a speaker talk about how she approaches her work which is directly related to Recess.

Cas Holman, associate professor at RISD, was the keynote speaker that kicked us off with a speech about how playfulness and trial-and-error help kids learn, grow, and innovate. Her talk was engaging and creative!

Throughout her career and different projects, Cas is always building and supply parts that you wouldn’t normally think of to give children. Her work revolves around a child’s ability to figure out how to build or interact with objects. Children are inherently curious, which is exactly why her toys are so impactful!

Here is a snippet of her talk:

Love, Risk, Joy, Engagement, Reflection, these are the guiding principles of AnjiPlay

Inspired? Play on!

Let the hacking begin!

1 pm. The hacking begins. The rooms fill with excitement.

Still, not as straight-forward as you’d think. When the hacking began, there were choices to make. Do they go to workshops or start on their project? There were eight workshops that lasted from 1 pm until 9 pm.



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The Hack@Brown team set up a site for students to request specific help for their projects. Our product manager was able to help out a handful of students who requested for help in different areas. Our whole team also was able to talk with a passionate student whose team left him due to a medical emergency. We encouraged him and gave him all of the hackathon tips we knew. While he did not have enough time to create software or hardware, the trick was to focus on fleshing out the concept and how it’s impactful.

Day 2:

The next morning at 10:30, projects were due online.

Our product manager was selected to help judge half of the projects. No bias, just giving constructive feedback with the goal for students to grow. Concept and delivery are key.

We particularly loved the hilarious knock-knock joke machine called Who’s There. The fist would knock on the door, the paper would appear saying “who’s there?” and then the OLED screen would display a knock-knock joke. Incredible. Here is their submission of their project (watch it in action!).

The photographs of the maze and numbers show an “Interactive, Immersive, Game for Early-Child Development” called WonderWorld. “Our VR game transports children into a maze, encountering academic challenges, developing their cognitive, social, and fine-motor skill abilities. The Amazon Alexa acts as a guide in the children’s experience, as well as prompting them for verbal responses – creating an end to end educational immersive experience. Educators can easily port our hack to their classroom activities, enabling a more personal activity for the end user- the children.” Check out their submission of their project (thorough explanations).

Here is what Soryan Kumar, one of the Brown students wanted to share:

“Hack@Brown was a really fun opportunity to meet new people, talk to mentors from a variety of companies, get free umbrellas, and explore new ideas. While it may have technically been a competition, I feel like the collaborative environment fostered by the staff and mentors gave me and my team room to step outside our comfort zone. With every obstacle we faced, I felt as though we had grown even more by overcoming it. By the end of Hack@Brown, I learned more about topics in computer science and engineering than I had in some of my classes over an entire semester!”

We really appreciate being able to support Hack@Brown 2019. Our focus will always be on the design community and education. You have our hearts.

See you next year, Brown.

Were you at Hack@Brown 2019? Have a story you’d like us to cover? Email me at! 


Categories: Ideas

Gabriela Lean

Empowering creatives worldwide in imagining the future of human-computer interaction.